Shoot Shoot, Bang Bang

The visceral cinema of Kathryn Bigelow ’79SOA has heady theoretical roots.

by Paul Hond Published Winter 2009-10
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“I began with The Set-Up to provide a physiological and psychological connection between the audience and the screen,” she says. “While you’re watching it, you’re deconstructing the connection. In a perfect world, theoretically, you’re experiencing that connection.” She then refers to a scene in The Hurt Locker, in which Eldridge, caught in a cross-desert shootout, is ordered by James to grab the ammo from off the body of a fallen comrade. But the bullets, blood-smeared, jam the rifle. With enemy fire whizzing past, Eldridge frantically wipes the bullets, spitting on them to clean them off.

“There was this one article,” Bigelow says, “in which the writer talks about watching the scene and trying to get saliva in his mouth, so that he could help Eldridge clean the bullets.”

“What becomes the discovery in the movie is that James is actu­ally quite self-aware. He knows what switches him on, and he accepts it. He’s not living in a state of denial.”

It’s what Lacanians call “scopophilia”: the derivation of physical sensation through the act of viewing. Mostly, it is associated with pornography. But it can just as easily be something that makes you wince or cover your eyes.

The explosion rips through the ground, lifting earth in a rolling torrent. Dirt and rust loosen and fly from the shell of a junked car. As Sergeant Thompson is hurled toward us on the road, we see the inside of his helmet turn dark red. He falls, lies motionless. Smoke rises from his body.

The Hurt Locker has just begun. We are about to meet Staff Sergeant James, Thompson’s replacement. With his record of disabling over 800 bombs — 873, to be exact — James, the “wild man,” as a giddy colonel calls him, has come here to do the one thing that makes him feel most alive.

As James is helped into his suit to perform his first death-defying mission with the unit, you seem to hear, in your mind, two disembodied voices, commenting on the text:

“Outwardly,” says Lotringer, “the movie is against violence, but of course, violence is very seductive. And she played with the seduction. To have seduction and Iraq at the same time was a gamble.”

And Bigelow: “The gravity of the subject is encapsulated within this physical beauty that creates a nice tension between the two elements. There’s something interestingly, graphically provocative about a man dressed in a bomb suit lifting up six bombs strapped to a wire.”

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